By Vickie Sam Paget
Occasionally, do you find yourself feeling a little macabre on vacation? Then you may well be a ‘taphophile’ – someone who has a passion for the enjoyment of cemeteries – just like me. It may sound a little grizzly, but I believe that part of understanding how a place ticks is to explore how its inhabitants lived, loved and ultimately died. Call me morbid, but I think there are some fascinating graveyards out there to explore. Trust me; it’s good to go beyond the tourist traps and step into the serenity of a cemetery. Here are a few of my favourites...
Père Lachaise, Paris
Dating back to 1804, the peaceful Père Lachaise cemetery was named after Father La Chaise, whose unenviable job it was to listen to all of Louis XIV's sins. Take a tour to make sure that you don’t miss out on any of the resting places of the cemetery’s famous residents: Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Edith Piaf and Molière, to name but a few.
San Michele, Venice
This Italian cemetery sits on an island on the Venetian Lagoon, and is commonly referred to as ‘The Island of the Dead’. Until the early 19th century, Venetians usually buried their dead under paving stones within the central city – not the best idea in a city that floods several times each year – so in 1837 it was decreed that San Michele would be the only burial ground for the majority of Venetians. Famous inhabitants include Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound.
La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires
Known as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, La Recoleta boasts many extravagant mausoleums and is home to a colony of cats. It contains the graves of past presidents, military heroes, poets – and most famously – Eva Perón. The ornate mausoleums are crowded closely together, adding atmosphere to this beautifully haunting graveyard.
Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh
creativecommons.org/Donna C Green
Dating back to the 16th century, this graveyard in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town boasts one of the most touching ‘man’s best friend’ stories you’ll ever hear. This cemetery’s most famous resident is ‘Greyfriars’ Bobby’, the loyal Skye terrier who kept a 14-year vigil on his master’s grave. Both the dog and his master, John Gray, are buried there. Today a statue of Bobby sits proudly opposite the gates of the church.
Dating back to 1874, Zentralfriedhof contains the graves of almost three million Austrians, including Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss. This place is so enormous – it spans some 2.4 square kilometres – that there are signposts throughout indicating the distance to the nearest of its 11 entrance gates. There are special sections that contain Soviet War graves, Russian Orthodox graves, Jewish graves, Protestant graves and Napoleonic graves.
Related content on Canadian Traveller